by John Hitch
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
The decade started out looking like the beginning of dystopian novel, until it pulled an about
face and rushed toward unprecedented growth. But what goes up, must come down.
The Roaring Twenties always fascinated me. Maybe it’s because it was the frst decade of the modern world—a world fueled by mass production and bigger-than- life characters from Al Capone to Babe Ruth. The confuence of technology and
personality, Prohibition and progress, made it a wild time in America. And it culminated
in a thud, or more specifcally, a crash in 1929.
We are about to enter the 2020s, and again fnd ourselves in manic fervor of manufacturing optimism, of embracing disruptive new technology and putting America frst.
Additive manufacturing, automation and the Industrial Internet of Things, protectionist
trade policies: Everything seems perfectly positioned for a roaring comeback.
But not in 2019.
My experience covering nearly every facet of manufacturing, from new tools and
machines to changing strategies and threats, leads me to believe this decade will end
in what amounts to a whimper. It’s a case of too much of a good thing. I research and
write about dozens of cool innovations every month, but the law of diminishing returns
is overdue. And the issue clouding any sunny 2019 forecast is the ability for manufacturers to fnd enough skilled workers to handle all the new tech that has burst forth.
Every fantastical new robot and smart solution that’s released also carries the burden
of training workers to use them and the cost of maintenance. The Industry Pulse: 2018
Manufacturing Workforce Report found that 99% of manufacturers expect fnding experienced hires will be a major issue.
More automation and more connected devices will at some point counter the lack of
people, but factories and job shops have to hold the line and wait for reinforcements which
would presumably come as robot get cheaper and more kids come around to the trades.
And robots will pick up more slack in 2019. Universal Robots announced it sold its
25,000th collaborative robot, but cobots still only accounted for 3% of overall industrial
robot sales in 2017. By 2025, cobots are projected to own a third of the industrial robot
market, according to Loup Ventures Research.
“With this increase in market share will come an increase in job demand and manufac-
turers will start to operate more effciently,” says Ryan Braman, Test Engineering Manager
at TUV Rheinland of North America. “We’re also seeing a lot of big companies—and even
low-volume manufacturers—already implementing cobots. So far, these companies have
seen a really great return on investment, boosting business growth.”
Bramen points out that the next year need more of an emphasis on standardizing
“Right now, there is not one hard and fast document that addresses all robot use
cases, he says. “However, I think next year, we’ll start seeing new standards coming out
that look at safety for new robotic innovations and even address some of the potential
complications future robotics might hold.”
Then there’s Industry 4.0. Accenture predicts the IIo T will add $14.2 trillion to the
global economy, but a survey I conducted over the summer for Industry Week shows
As we enter a new year, it’s that time again for a brand-new
set of predictions—and a lot of hot takes certain to cool by next
December. Nevertheless, in the following stories, we’re taking our
shot at prognosticating what’s ahead, because, we fgure, helping
the manufacturers so vital to our nation’s health and wealth make
better decisions is worth the risk of being wrong.
Last year, we were pretty accurate overall, noting that 5G, block-
chain, and augmented reality would start to branch out from R&D
labs and sandboxes and onto the factory foor and into the net-
work. We also thought 2018 would be a breakout year for China in
metal additive manufacturing, and the beginning of its domina-
tion in the space. In hindsight—after checking out what American
companies were up to at IMTS 2018, such as HP with the new
Metal Jet technology—that claim seems a bit off.
This year, we’re taking a different tack. We’re going to drop you
down low with a dire warning about the year to come, and then
prop you back up with some optimistic outlooks on the new year.
We won’t know who is wrong or right for quite a while, but as long
as you know the possibilities, you should be able to navigate the
unknown just a bit better.